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They both did it. 

Aaron Judge is officially the new American League single-season home run leader and Albert Pujols is now the fourth member of the 700 home run club. And both of those numbers mean something. The steroid era of baseball tainted the sanctity of statistics. The numbers seemed to lose their meaning, until Judge and Pujols. Until now.

Judge hit number 62 Tuesday night in Texas against the Rangers. Unofficially, Judge is the all-time single-season home run leader. At least he is for me. Sure, Barry Bonds hit 73 homers in 2001. And yes, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa each have multiple season of more than 61 home runs. But history has shown that all three of them have ties to performance enhancing drugs. That immediately disqualifies them in my mind from consideration as legitimate home run leaders. 

This season by Judge is historic. It is the single greatest offensive season ever. His OPS+ is 212, which means that he is 112 percent better than the average offensive player.

Any other season that is even close to his has legitimate questions surrounding it, which diminish the accomplishment. 

Many of those great years were during the pre-integration or partial-integration era. None of them played against the best Black players and they only competed against a handful of foreign-born players. This disqualifies them from true comparison. There are over 400 foreign-born players in the major leagues in 2022 and there is no separate Negro League like back in the day. Aaron Judge faces the best-of-the-best, while others did not.

We have already dismissed others like Bonds, McGwire and Sosa, who were connected to PEDs.

Others played in shortened seasons; they did not have to ride the rollercoaster of a long season where regression toward the mean would come into play. This disqualifies them from true comparison. 

The real single-season home run record has been up for debate before.

When Roger Maris hit his 61st home run on the last day of the season in 1961, there were many who challenged whether Maris was the single-season leader because he achieved that number in a 162-game season versus the 154-game season it took Ruth. There was debate at the time, but, over the years, Maris won out as the single-season leader. There was talk of an asterisk next to Maris’ total, but it was never instituted. 

Likely, there was never an asterisk added to McGwire’s and Bonds’ home run totals despite the PED usage because of the precedent set with Maris. The commissioners have decided to let fans and media make their own judgments on the credibility of the records. 

The good news is that Judge is just 30 years old and he will have years to be able to break his own record and maybe even pass Bonds’ 73 homers to eliminate any debate on legitimacy. Judge has 220 home runs so far in his career. He will need 480 more to become a member of the 700 home run club. That’s 48 per year for the next 10 years. That puts in perspective what Albert Pujols has accomplished.

When Pujols was drafted, no one would have thought that 700 home runs was possible. He was a 13th round draft pick out of Maple Woods Community College near Kansas City. But boy, did so many scouts miss on him. 

When Pujols made the Cardinals out of spring training 2001, I was general manager of the New York Mets. I asked what our scouting reports were on him in college. Our scouts weren’t sure what position he would play because he was a very chunky body type. We liked him as a hitter but clearly not enough. 

Twenty-nine other teams missed on Pujols, but so too did the Cardinals. As good as his career has gone, they took way too much of a risk to have passed on him the first twelve rounds of the draft. As good as he has been, he should have been a first-round pick. In fact, the Cardinals national cross checker at time was asked by the director of minor leagues if he could recommend a guy who could help fill a role on a minor league team as an outfielder and corner infielder. The scout recommended Pujols in the 13th round.

He was the rookie of the year in 2001 and a three-time MVP. He came in second in the MVP voting four times and third once. He hit .328/.421/.617 during that time and averaged 40 homers, 121 RBI and 117 runs scored. He was one of the most feared hitters in baseball ever. 

He signed with the Angels as a free agent in 2012, but his time there was far less productive. He averaged 24 homers with 86 RBI and 61 runs per year. The Angels released him in May of last year and he signed with the crosstown Dodgers a few days later. He hit much better once he joined the Dodgers, which fortified his desire to play in 2022. He credits his time with the Dodgers for reigniting his fire and inspiring his desire to play one last season.

He signed again with the St. Louis Cardinals during spring training after the lockout. He returned home. It felt like it was going to be more about closure than production. I didn’t think there was any chance that he would play enough or hit well enough to reach the 700 homer threshold. But here we are. The amazing story of Albert Pujols has one more extraordinary chapter. His OPS+ is 154, which means he is performing 54 percent better than average. At the age of 42. 

Pujols is now one of four hitters to ever hit 700 homers, joining Bonds (762), Henry Aaron (755), and Babe Ruth (714). In my opinion, Pujols is one of the three best right-handed hitters ever alongside Aaron and Miguel Cabrera

Pujols was asked if he would play next season if he was stuck on 699 homers at the end of the year. He said no. Albert kept saying that numbers didn’t mean that much to him. But his emotions and tears after circling the bases belied that claim. He was overwhelmed by the achievement and the journey traveled to get there. Pujols is one of the most respected and revered players to ever play the game. He has always been a great teammate and representative of an organization. He is a great citizen and human being. He is as charitable a man as there is in professional sports. Both his teammates with Cardinals, as well as his former teammates with the Dodgers, showed their love for him after 700. 

The most beautiful part of the Judge and Pujols stories is that they are two of the most respected and well-regarded gentlemen in baseball. They treat people the right way at every turn. They are two of the finest men to ever wear a major league uniform. The baseball gods chose the right two players.